Students protest trustee chair

Students at the College have opposing views about Bob Diamond’s ’73 role as chairman of the Board of Trustees. Due to his recent implication in the Barclays London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) scandal and subsequent resignation as the company’s chief executive officer (CEO), some students on the Hill as well as members of Occupy Augusta believe that Diamond should resign from his position on the Board.

A group comprised of 15 students and 15 Occupy Augusta members protested outside of the Diamond Building and the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center Oct. 20 during a trustee meeting. The protestors met in hopes of starting a campus conversation about the College’s values and whether Diamond’s position on the Board opposes those values.

Over the summer, the student body received an e-mail from Secretary of the Corporation Sally Baker on behalf of the Board saying that “the [B]oard strongly affirmed its support of Mr. Diamond as chair.” Shelby O’Neill ’15 helped organize the protest and said that Baker used the College’s fundamental values to justify the decision to keep Diamond as chairman. Those values included the “paramount importance of seeking truth, an overarching obligation to fairness and the absolute necessity of deep, critical and patient consideration of complex issues,” according to Baker’s e-mail. “If we are willing to use those values as sort of political catch-phrases, we have to know the implications about what that means and we have to question whether those values really mean anything to our school,” O’Neill said.

Part way through the morning of the protest, a counter-protest arrived. Steve Carroll ’14, the student who organized the opposing demonstration, said, “More than anything, what we considered [the initial protest] to be was ungrateful. We wanted at least someone to know that [what the initial protestors were saying] wasn’t the general sentiment of the school.”

Carroll explained that, “you have to draw a distinction between what Bob Diamond has done on Wall Street and what he’s done for Colby….Bob Diamond was A) giving money and being a part of the Board of Trustees long before the scandal even arose, and B), the money still helps us and he still does good [things] for the school even after he’s been implicated in the scandal.” Carroll said that if the College started accepting money from people who have never been implicated in any sort of scandal, the College would have to be prepared to run on a “shoestring budget.”

O’Neill believes that there are other sources of money that the College can use to remain operating and that Diamond’s presence compromises the College’s values. “We can’t separate the money he gives us from the ethics behind that money. We can’t separate what he’s done on Wall Street from what he’s done for Colby because the two are so connected,” he said.

The other primary organizer for the protest questioning Diamond’s role was Gordon Fischer ’13. Fischer outlined the activities that Barclays has been involved in and said that the former CEO of such a company does not uphold the values of a liberal arts college. He said via e-mail that Barclays values “profits over everything. They have been involved in fixing interest rates, lying to investors, speculating on food prices and have contributed to the rising levels of global economic inequality. To have the former CEO of such a company as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees is ironic for an academic institution which claims to be committed to honesty, fairness and equality, seeing as his former company did not uphold any of those values under his watch.”

During the protest, Fischer and O’Neill were invited to have a private conversation with Vice Chair of the Board Richard Uchida ’79 and trustee Jane Powers ’86. O’Neill said that during that conversation, they discussed the possibility of having a forum to consider Diamond’s position on the Board and, “the complex relationship between academia and philanthropy.” He added, “Mr. Uchida said he was receptive to the idea [of a forum] and would present it to the Board later that afternoon.”

The Morning Sentinel published an article about the protest in which the author paraphrased O’Neill, writing, “The trustees were receptive to the group’s concerns and encouraged them to host a schoolwide forum to discuss Diamond’s role.”

In response to this report, Uchida gave his own account of the discussion in a letter to the Sentinel. “One of those students apparently misrepresented the nature of our conversation when he spoke later to a Morning Sentinel reporter….The student’s claim, however, that I encouraged them to ‘host a school-wide forum to discuss Diamond’s role’ at the College is simply not true,” he wrote.

O’Neill wrote a response to Uchida’s letter which the Sentinel has decided not to publish because “it doesn’t shed new light on the story,” O’Neill said. He explained, “‘Encouraged’ was too strong of a word in the report. However, Mr. Uchida was very receptive to the idea [of a forum] and I am willing to stand behind that.”

Regardless whether the Board supports the idea, Fischer intends to hold a forum. “We [will] have a forum….The board comes here twice a year.…They’re not even here. We’re the ones [who] are here on this campus so we’re going to get a forum. With or without their support—it doesn’t really matter,” Fischer said.

The next trustee meeting at the College will be in April when the public can expect Fischer to be organizing something but, “[April]’s a long ways away,” he said.

Both groups of protestors believe that the results of the morning’s demonstrations were positive. “It was good because there definitely was an exchange of ideas and there was some debate in there…at least it wasn’t just [about] who could talk louder,” Carroll said. O’Neill expressed similar sentiments when he said, “We’re not all in agreement here but let’s talk about it, let’s have a conversation. We wanted a conversational protest not a confrontation protest and I think we accomplished that.”